May 12, 2010

discipline” (def.)

Like me, most people think first of the negative when hearing the word ‘discipline’. The word recalls my all too frequent experience of being caned at school. Somehow my elders had convinced me that this was good for me. What is even more surprising is that I believed them and allowed myself to be subjected to this treatment! One school “Master of Discipline” (in itself an interesting term for the role) even made us say “thank you” when he had finished his task.

After reflecting on sabbath rest yesterday I was left realising that if I kept this up for more than a couple of days, then my sabbatical could begin to float away with little or no fruit. That lead me to think about ‘discipline’ and ‘sabbatical’ together. Given that I could easily spend days (or weeks) just sleeping and reading trashy novels, maybe the positive dimensions of discipline are needed.

I think of saving to pay the mortgage. It is all too easy to keep topping up the mortgage to pay for other needs. A more disciplined approach would ask, do I really need these other things? Perhaps if I adjust my spending and live on wine and mussels instead of champagne and oysters then I will be free of this debt sooner? Such an approach takes discipline, and the fruits are immediate.

It is significant that while discipline is seen as an essential component of life when it comes to raising family, preparing for career and paying the mortgage, faith and religion are seen as the place where discipline now has no place. This is a recent innovation.

Not too many years ago discipline was seen as the method to deepen faith. To be a ‘disciple’ requires discipline. But such discipline is not inflicted with cane (it is difficult to comprehend how easily the human psyche justifies what is evil in the name of what is good), but is gifted with love. We are enticed by love to the path that brings us all we seek. Remember that beautiful passage from Hosea:

“Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk;
I took them up by their arms,
but they did not know that I healed them.

I led them with cords of kindness,
with the bands of love,

and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws,

and I bent down to them and fed them.” Hosea 11

I am sure that we personally, in the church, and in society are suffering because we no longer allow discipline to motivate and to guide our spiritual growth and our religious practice. The problem is no so much that we have abandoned practices and prayers that might be more suitable for a child, but that we have not replaced these with disciplines that are challenging and nourishing for us as adults.

It was thoughts such as these that led me a couple of days ago to begin a more structured plan for each day. While there will be sabbatical days when my plan does not work, I am appreciating the way this has begun. Some simple examples:

  • I am savouring the ability to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, at the hour for which they are intended, morning, mid-morning, midday, mid-afternoon, evening and night. Usually, especially in the irregular pattern of parish life, these hours fall together twice or three times a day. The regular rhythm (as the hours intend) is good for me.

  • The bells of the Angelus ring nearby at midday. I remember as a child at St Joseph’s primary in Oamaru, every day at midday the bells at the Dominican convent across the road would ring the Angelus. Mid sentence we would all fall to our knees and sister would begin: “The Angel of the Lord…” Earlier this month when we were in Nazareth this prayer returned to me with renewed significance. Here in this place, Nazareth, the Word became flesh. Now, because of the incarnation, we can all, wherever we are, know that God is HERE, in THIS place.

  • The Mass is the heart of every day. Several mornings already I have ‘disciplined’ myself to be at St Peter’s at 7.00am when the basilica opens. The trip is only ten minutes on the Metro and another ten minutes walking. The basilica is peaceful at this hour. It is the ideal time to visit. Later in the morning the queue to enter is an hour long. The sacristy staff are welcoming. The Mass, and the hour or so following (before the tourists crowd in) are a highlight of the day.

  • In the Holy Land Blog I mentioned my renewed appreciation of the Rosary. This has continued and now provides a medatitive highlight in the disciplines of my sabbatical.

  • Food and drink with good company and laughter. I have discovered a little wine bar with quiet space, good bar nibbles and cheap quality red wine served in a jug by the 1/4 or 1/2 litre. I suspect they serve the full litre as well but I will need to practice more first.

These are just a few thoughts. Personal commitment to some disciplined structure is an essential component of every important human activity. We diary time for the people we love. We balance our diet and exercise.

I invite you to choose some practice of prayer. Commit to it fully to a week. Then, towards the end of that time judge whether or not you find it helpful.

St Joseph’s altar in St Peter’s
where I celebrated Mass this morning
for Parishioners of Our Lady of Victories


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